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Grim's Grub: The true taste of Minnesotan identity

How a 90-year-old recipe set the state apart once again.

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Minnesota prides itself in calling things by their right name, including "Duck, Duck, Gray Duck," "pop" and, of course, "hot dish."

Now, one could argue that since the word "casserole" goes all the way back to the Greek word "kuathion" - for "little cup" - that it is the proper term. But to that I say, beauty before age!

And we Minnesotans know a properly made hot dish is a thing of beauty - well, flavor wise anyway.

While Americans have been making communal dishes composed of meat, vegetables and starches thrown into a pan and baked likely since the inception of the country, the name "hot dish" didn't come to the forefront until approximately 1930.

Hot dish has the most stereotypical Minnesotan origin story ever.

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Going back to the 1930s and earlier, one popular form of fundraising was the sale of the community cookbook. These were often organized by a school, a chamber of commerce or, most often, a church.

Such is the case here. If I gave you three guesses as to what denomination published the first hot dish recipe, you'd have two to spare. Knowing the church was Lutheran, you'd have a good chance at guessing the recipe author's last name!

The woman to change epicurean history just over 90 years ago was none other than Mrs. C.W. Anderson, who submitted her recipe, titled "Hot Dish," to the Grace Lutheran Ladies Aid cookbook in Mankato.

It seems like something akin to hamburger helper or goulash, neither of which are my hot dish of choice, but it showed that you can make something out of nothing.

The basic formula for hot dish is simple: protein, starch, vegetables, sauce and cheese optional, bonus points for a crunchy topping. Perhaps the king of all hot dishes was born in 1956, three years after Ore-Ida invented commercial tater tots. This has become an important staple to the state.

Hot dish is such a big part of our identity that, since 2010, there's been a Minnesota Congressional Hotdish Competition, won by such folks as Rick Nolan, Tom Emmer, Betty McCollum and others.

McCollum's 2019 award-winning recipe added a spicy Hmong flair to classic tater tot hot dish.

Mrs. C.W. Anderson's 1930 Original Hot Dish

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  • 2 pounds hamburger
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 1 box Creamette elbow macaroni
  • 1 bunch of celery, chopped
  • 1 can peas
  • 1 can tomato soup
  • 1 quart tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Fry 2 pounds of hamburger. Fry, but not til brown, two large onions. Boil in salted water until tender one box of Creamettes. Put in a baking dish the fried hamburger, onions, creamettes, and add one bunch of celery cut up, one can of peas, one can of tomato soup, 1 quart of tomatoes, salt and pepper. Stir all together and add enough water so liquid covers all. Bake.

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Summer Cookout Hot Dish

  • 1 bag hash brown potatoes
  • 2 cans shredded barbecue pork, drained
  • 1 can sweet corn, drained
  • 8 ounces sour cream
  • 1-2 tablespoons mayo
  • Garlic salt to taste
  • Packet french onion soup mix
  • Pepper to taste
  • 8 slices bacon, cut into small lardons
  • 1 bunch green onions, sliced thin
  • 4 cups cheddar cheese
  • Barbecue sauce, to taste

Grease a casserole dish. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Line your dish with half of the shredded hash brown potatoes and evenly sprinkle the onion soup mix on top. Next, spread the sour cream into a uniform layer on top of the hash browns.

In a bowl, mix the corn and mayo until thoroughly coated. Spread this on top of the sour cream and season with garlic salt and pepper to taste.

In a bowl, combine the two cans of shredded pork and stir to break up the chunks of pork. Add barbecue sauce until coated to your preferred amount. Spread this on top of the corn layer.

Reserve approximately 1/4 cup of bacon and 1/4 cup of green onions, but break up the rest of the lardons and onions into the remaining hash browns. Season with garlic salt and pepper and mix until fairly uniform. Put this on top of the pulled pork.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes covered, then for another 20 minutes uncovered or until the edges begin to brown.

Mix the cheese with the remaining bacon and green onions. At the end of 40 minutes, sprinkle this on top of the hot dish, turn the temperature up to 450 degrees and cook for an additional 15-20 minutes until the cheese is melted and the bacon has cooked.

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Hotdish A-Hmong Friends

2019 first-place recipe by Minnesota Rep. Betty McCollum

  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 cups of carrots, grated
  • 1 small cabbage, quartered and sliced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 pounds of ground beef
  • 1 bag of tater tots
  • ½ cup of Umami Seasoning
  • ½ tablespoon of salt
  • ½ tablespoon of pepper
  • 1 can of cream of mushroom
  • ½ cup of milk
  • ½ cup of vegetable oil
  • 2 egg roll wraps
  • 5 Thai chilis, optional

Add tater tots to cover the bottom of a hot dish container.

Sauté garlic for one minute on medium heat, then add onion and cook until translucent. Add carrots and cabbage and cook until soft. Transfer the vegetables to a container for later.

Cook ground beef thoroughly and then return the vegetables to the pan, including the chilis, if you choose. Add Umami Seasoning, salt and pepper and mix. Transfer the mix to the hot dish pan and cover the tater tots.

Whisk cream of mushroom with milk and pour over the hot dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

While the hot dish is baking, cut egg roll wraps in quarters and fry until crispy, then crumble the wraps over the hot dish five minutes before it is done.

Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or travis.grimler@pineandlakes.com.

Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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